King Soopers strike

Signs calling for temporary workers (at $18/hour) are appearing in front of all metro Denver King Soopers store Tuesday as they are bracing for a strike of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 union workers Wednesday morning. About 8,700 workers at 78 Denver metro area stores are scheduled to strike.

With United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 union representatives rejecting King Soopers/City Market’s “last, best and final offer” Tuesday, it looks as though picket lines in metro Denver stores will materialize at 5 a.m. Wednesday.

More than 8,700 workers at 78 Denver metro area stores plan to walk out Wednesday morning. Colorado Springs stores are not included in the strike, as meat workers there still have a contract through Feb. 19. There are more than 22,500 King Soopers/City Market employees statewide.

Tuesday’s offer included $170 million in wage increases over the next three years, and “ratification bonuses” for all employees. The offer before that was $148 million over the next three years.

Meanwhile, customers seemed to be prepping for a strike, too. Excessively long checkout lines were seen in King Soopers stores in Denver and one in Parker on Tuesday morning. Security guards who weren't there last week were present Tuesday, and signs advertising "temporary workers needed" were prominently displayed. 

Security is another point of contention with union members, who said they've been asking for guards at every store since 2018. 

On March 22, a gunman killed 10 people at a Boulder King Soopers, including a Boulder police officer, before officers took him into custody. The suspect faces dozens of charges including first-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons counts related to possessing banned high-capacity magazines. The Table Mesa store is scheduled to reopen Jan. 20. 

The offer Tuesday still didn’t increase the proposed minimum starting wage of $16, which is a huge bone of contention with union representatives since temporary workers to replace striking workers are being brought in at $18 per hour.

“The Company’s ‘last, best, and final’ offer, in many ways, is worse than its previous offers,” UFCW Local 7 President Kim Cordova said in a statement Tuesday.

“At King Soopers, we want what is right for our associates, and that is more money in their paychecks while continuing to receive industry-leading healthcare benefits,” Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers/City Market, said in a statement.

The news release outlining the offer called it a “monumental investment” and that the union “threatens disruption.” The company filed an “unfair labor practices” complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging union workers will not return to the bargaining table. Union representatives have said they’re not dealing with federal mediators, have asked for local representation at the bargaining table instead of “out-of-state corporate lawyers,” and are still waiting on information from the company they said they need to make an agreement.

“I have been in bargaining on many occasions and King Soopers absolutely has refused to bargain in good faith,” Cordova said at a news conference Monday.

Workers are demanding better pay and work conditions. The union has alleged unfair labor practices on the part of King Soopers, while the company has said it made a significant contract offer that would substantially boost employee compensation and benefits.

Contract talks soured in recent weeks between the union, which represents about 17,000 grocery workers, and the chain of grocery stores owned by The Kroger Co., the Cincinnati-based supermarket giant. 

Company officials said a checker making $19.51 an hour would make $22.61 an hour over the next three years under the proposed contract.

“For a full-time checker, their annual compensation would be over $47,000 annually, in addition to their industry-leading healthcare and pension benefits,” according to a release.

Employees' health care premiums have not gone up for 12 years, according to Kroger.

While Kroger officials are calling for union representatives to bring the offer directly to members and let them vote on it, Cordova said members already overwhelmingly approved a strike and left negotiations to a committee.

“We have a member-led bargaining committee with about 47 rank and file members that work from City Market and King Soopers among all job classifications,” Cordova said. “The process is very transparent. It’s all open to the general membership.”

If the committee accepts the offer, then it’s taken to the general membership for a vote.

King Soopers spokeswoman Jessica Trowbridge said they’ve been trying to get union representatives back to the table to talk about both offers. She disputed Cordova’s contentions that Kelley doesn’t care about workers because he hasn’t spent a lot of time at the bargaining table.

“Negotiations are very important to Joe and he knows just how important negotiations are to our associates as well,” Trowbridge said in an email. “Joe did attend the negotiations kick-off meeting, where he explained to the committee that he would not be attending negotiations moving forward, but that he would be in touch with the team daily. Additionally, he expressed that he trusts our bargaining committee of qualified, experienced professionals who are empowered to bargain a contract and work toward a quick resolution.”

Kroger’s operating profits for the first three quarters of 2021 totaled $2.51 billion, down 14.5% from the same period in 2020. Operating profits excluded nearly $700 million in investment losses and nearly $1 billion in investment profits during the same period in 2020.

The company’s operating profit in 2020 was $2.59 billion, up 23.5% from 2019. The $4.06 billion number Local 7 is using is after subtracting one-time costs, including nearly $1 billion Kroger agreed to pump into the union’s pension fund. Kroger said it expects to generate between $4.1 billion and $4.2 billion in operating profits for all of 2021 after similar adjustments.

The company is expected to report its financial results for all of 2021 in March.

The proposed starting wages of $16 an hour is $3.44 an hour higher than Colorado’s minimum wage but just 13 cents more than Denver’s minimum wage (the company operates 14 stores in Denver). In Colorado Springs, starting pay for workers at Costco is $16 an hour and $15 an hour for workers at Target. Walmart is advertising openings for between Colorado’s minimum wage of $12.56 an hour and $17 an hour.

Gazette Business Reporter Wayne Heilman and Denver Gazette Reporter Seth Klamann contributed to this report. 

Newsletters

Get OutThere

Signup today for free and be the first to get notified on new updates.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.